In praise of weather (again)

I look at photos of Dutch and British gardens and am a little envious to see how long and gentle their autumns seem to be.  Our climate in the Northeast US is vastly different; our foul and stormy weather often comes much sooner. The garden was decimated by snow and freezing rain Thanksgiving week, two months earlier than last year. This is about what remains.

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Having a largely perennial garden, I have to find beauty in early destruction. It helps to think of the garden as a form of abstract art that incorporates a large measure of randomness and chance.

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Fog helps. Fog makes even tattered grasses appear to glow with an intensity they have at no other time. It casts the dark of tree trunks and the spectral skeletons of Inula racemosa into stark relief.

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Fog suggests mystery, the indefinable, the ineffable–what can’t be expressed in words.

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It’s nothing extraordinary, common in fact, a Romantic commonplace, but I never grow tired of seeing a garden, or pretty much any scene, in fog. It’s all about changed mood and atmosphere.

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Fog unifies the garden with its surroundings by blurring the edges. And it elicits a deeper response, often suggesting metaphor to capture an elusive emotion.

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It even gives my partially complete stone circle a patina of age, makes it seem more ancient, ruin-like.

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Apart from shrubs and small trees and stone, this season most of the remaining garden consists of two plants–Miscanthus, in various cultivars, and the Wolfgang Oehme-inspired Inula racemosa ‘Sonnenspeer’. There are other plants still standing, of course, but these two predominate now.

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Though the plantings wear thin in January, it’s still possible to feel immersed in the garden, to look up to the house and feel it’s a long way off.

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Vertical and tilted lines of Inula still make interesting compositions against the warm grasses and foggy woods beyond the garden’s edge …

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… and contrast with the manmade structure of two Dan Benarcik chairs.

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Twisted stems of the Japanese fantail willow (Salix sachalinensis ‘Sekka’) are a warm brown; they will grow redder as the season progresses, hinting of spring.

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An Inula steeply leaning over a collapsed bed of Miscanthus ‘Silberfeder’ (among the floppiest grasses in my garden) creates tension and drama in an otherwise neutral scene, all made more dramatic by the foggy blurring of the background trees.

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Another willow, Salix alba ‘Britzensis’, made redder by the fog. This one I’m training to grow as a pollarded tree.

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23 thoughts on “In praise of weather (again)

    1. Thanks, Cyndi. Yes, I do see beauty in destruction. I often refer to the paintings of Anselm Kiefer–one of my favorite painters–whose work often deals with emotions and themes related to the Holocaust. Strange to see so much beauty in those paintings.

    1. Cyndi, I can’t remember whether you live slightly north or south of the equator, but I guess you don’t have a real winter. I’m already tired of ours and am itching to start burning the grasses. I hold off, however, because what I have is better than black, seared ground. Best wait until spring is near so green quickly replaces the scorched earth. Ironically, I recently discovered I have a neighbor in Brooklyn whose daughter married a guy from a prominent Rwandan family. They live in Geneva (he works for the UN, I think), but they visit and were married in Kigali.

  1. James,
    These images are hauntingly beautiful. It confirms my suspicion that the bigger the prairie-style garden, the better. I notice, because the garden is much more transparent, that the scale of your garden feels very right. The Inula racemosa ‘Sonnenspeer’ stalks are stunning against the grasses.

  2. Beautiful pictures, Jim. The fog is so evocative of memories of winter on Cape Cod when I was a child. Some found it gloomy, while I found it extremely peaceful and soothing. And very quiet!

    1. Thanks, Bill. I love the fog, except when driving at night (when I can’t see the deer). I think is must be very different here in the woods from what you see with fog over the ocean.

  3. Michael,
    Thank you for calling attention to the scale of the garden. I have to admit I was putting my attention elsewhere, into geometry and shape and color. You very may well be right that prairie-style gardens need larger spaces. It would be interesting to experiment with smaller plants in a smaller place. Probably something I’ll never try because I so love huge plants.

  4. One of the few things I look forward to in winter. is the rest time in the garden. I really enjoy cutting down all the rampant summer growth and making the garden look a little more simple and domesticated. Fortunately, about the time I tire of this phase, new growth begins again.

    1. Les, I’m itching to burn the grasses, but if I do, I’ll be looking at a blackened, war-scarred landscape until the end of March, so I hold off. Better to wait and get maximal dehydration so they burn more easily.

  5. We had no no real winter until now in Holland. There are even signs of a pre-spring half january.
    May be february will give some winter.
    I love the foggy photo’s above, the warm ocres and the grays.
    Really, you found beauty in destruction.

    1. Thanks, Zem. We had lousy weather early, and have since had extreme cold from time to time. But so far no major snow. I’m glad you see the beauty in destruction. The intense colors only come now with light rain or fog. The garden is in its final phase, ready to be cut and burned.

  6. Do I see a willow-leaf Spicebush in some of your photos towards the beginning of your post? (Lindera salicifolia , or I ‘ve seen listed as L. glauca var. salificolia. ) They keep their tan foliage through much of the winter, I think. I saw ones at Chanticleer years ago in the fall and loved the foliage. If it is, can you say where you got it? They are hard to find. Txs. BTW, I’m not able to view the comments on your blog. Has something changed? Always enjoyed reading them.

    1. Sarah, I have four Lindera glauca angustifolia and one L. salicifolia. Like you, I first discovered them in the autumn at Chanticleer. I got mine from a southern New Jersey nursery, Fairweather, which has been closed for sabbatical for 2014. (The L. Salicifolia, I got at the Swarthmore plant sale.) I know Pleasant Run Nursery in Allentown, NJ, carries them. Thank you for bringing my attention to the comment problem. I upgraded to the new version of WordPress and the comments disappeared. That has now been fixed, and comments are back.

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